False dilemmas in science blogging

What is the point of blogging from a history and philosophy of science or science studies perspective? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it part of our work as scholars, or just a hobby? Jaipreet Virdi yesterday reflected upon her difficulty in seeing “the big picture”, and I suspect most of us who contribute to blogs ask ourselves similar questions. As Michael Barton of The Dispersal of Darwin observes, there are many different types of academic blogs, with many different aims and many different audiences. There is no one right way to do things, and no one right aim. But what we do have are choices, and we need to be conscious of what those choices mean—or don’t mean—for our mission.

One type of choice that I think is false, or overblown, is the choice between engaging with the public and examining a subject in depth, or between writing accessibly and making sophisticated arguments and analyses. This choice is what Ben Cohen implies with his “Ayers-Onuf axis“:…

Facts and Values in Macroeconomics: Fiscal Multipliers

Thomas Kuhn is most famous for two concepts: revolutions and paradigms. Looking at the history of  science, Kuhn argued that it does not show a steady accumulation of knowledge, but shows long periods of relative conceptual stasis (what he called “normal science”) punctuated by “revolutions” where the conceptual foundations of a particular scientific field are overturned and replaced. During periods of normal science, scientists  generally see the world and interpret observations in the same way, but, according to Kuhn, during revolutionary periods competing scientific camps see the world differently. In some sense, they inhabit different worlds.

Macroeconomics has gone through multiple “revolutions” in the twentieth century, most notably as economists largely came to consensus in the 1920s and 30s over John Maynard Keynes’s view of the economy after the Great Depression, then largely switched to Friedman’s monetarist view in the 1960s.1 Currently macroeconomists appear to be divided between the two camps: neither Keynesian nor monetarist macroeconomics is clearly dominant. Given Kuhn’s account of paradigms, this suggests that Keynesians and monetarists will see the world in different ways. This seems particularly plausible in the extremely complex domain of economics. However, I think the extent of this divide is easily overstated, for macroeconomics in particular and science in general. This post looks at an example where the disagreement between Keynesians and monetarists seems to be more rhetorical than conceptual, more about emphasis than perception.

  1. See: Harry G. Johnson, “The Keynesian Revolution and the Monetarist Counter-Revolution”, The American Economic Review, Vol. 61, No. 2 (May 1971)

Would Darwin Date an Evolutionary Psychologist?

This week we linked to an article by Dan Slater in the New York Times entitled “Darwin Was Wrong About Dating“. It’s an attempted takedown of evolutionary psychology using current social science research to debunk some stereotypical ideas about the differences between men and women. In response, James Taranto, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote a pretty brutal counter-takedown. Taranto’s subtitle for his piece: “Feminism is the new creationism”.

Sigh, so that’s how it’s going to be. Just for a minute, though, let’s rise above the cheap shots and wild inflammatory claims….…

Weekly Roundup

Rockin’ all the way to the jailhouse

A Norwegian study claims that kids’ preference for non-mainstream music can lead to delinquency in adolescence (via the Atlantic). As Jezebel reminds us, there’s a rich history of accusations against specific types of music, including the tritone in the Middle Ages and prohibition-era jazz (not to mention rock n’ roll).

In response to an Australian customer’s photo of an 11-inch “footlong” sandwich, Subway responded that “Subway footlong” is a trademark, not a measurement (via Buzzfeed).

With Valentines’ Day less than a month away, Dan Slater at the New York Times checks up on evolutionary psychology’s arguments for our battle-of-the-sexes mentality, as well as some newer studies that challenge it. At the very least, you’ll learn what counted as a pick-up line in 1989: “I have been noticing you around campus and I find you to be very attractive.”…

Bycroft demonstrates how to respond to #overlyhonestmethods

Mike Bycroft at Double Réfraction has an interesting and valuable post up about the #overlyhonestmethods Twitter trend that I think demonstrates how we should be responding to it and similar phenomena.

These tweets from scientists aren’t really all that surprising to people familiar with STS, and are usually more silly than scandalous. Here are a few from a list compiled by Beckie Port at Spotify:



Or this one from shortgeologist.blogspot.com:

Nevertheless, this trend has some speculating about what effect these tweets will have on the public perception of science. For instance:…

HPS could be the Corpus Callosum of the academy

My friend and colleague Ari Gross is organizing a panel for this year’s CSHPS meeting in Victoria, on the question of the coherence of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) as a discipline. I can’t make it this year, but here is what I would liked to have said if I could be there:

HPS could be like the Corpus Callosum of academia. That is, it sort of functions that way already, and we have an opportunity to embrace that as its role.…

The Internet Observer Effect

Two weeks ago I offered some thoughts on Boaz Miller and Isaac Record’s argument about internet filter bubbles. Briefly, Miller and Record argue that, because the details of how Google adjusts your current search results based on your past search history are unknown, in order to justify a purported piece of knowledge learned through searching, you need to consult other sources of information. I had various objections, but overall I think their argument is correct, assuming that personalization really affects search results to the degree they suggest. In this post, though, I want to explore the problem from another angle: how does my search behaviour affect the search results of others—or more broadly, how does my behaviour on the internet affect the epistemic landscape of others?

Let me use an illustrative example. Back in November there was minor controversy on the University of Toronto campus when a “men’s rights” group invited The Myth of Male Power author Warren Farrell to speak. Predictably, campus feminists reacted strongly:…

Weekly Roundup

The petition to build a Death Star has been turned down by the White House. The official government response, peppered with references to Star Wars and to Obama’s science policies, quickly went viral. Ars Technica calls it science communications done right: “Not only is it funny and compelling—it’s certainly both—but it shows how to turn an unlikely opportunity into a great platform for promoting science”.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found evidence of bias in breast cancer research, both about the efficacy of treatments and their toxicity. This should be completely unsurprising to anyone familiar with the current literature on the funding of biomedical research.